Authors: Auston Habershaw
Now, if you should be looking for dear Myreon and myself, I expect you should find us in the dungeons of the Hanim's little palace away from home. You can't miss itâÂit's the big thing with all the minarets in the Castle District. I rather doubt she'll be terribly welcoming, what with you Defenders being the sworn enemies of her Âpeople and all, but you're welcome to try and visit. I promise not to tell her you're coming.
Ta-Âta for now,
Tarlyth tore the letter in half when he had finished and threw himself in one of the dining room chairs. The Sergeant Defender appeared and saluted. “Sir, orders?”
Tarlyth sighed. “There's a bottle of wine over the washbasin in the kitchen. Fetch it for me, would you? Bring two glasses and the IlliniâÂwe need to have a talk.”
ne day I'm going to write a book,” Tyvian said casually, as though he were sipping tea among friends at a cafÃ© in the Stair Market. Even under those circumstances this comment would have been odd, but in the depths of a bleak, frigid dungeon and standing on tiptoe so he could relieve the pressure on his wrists, which were manacled above his head by a chain hung on an iron hook ten feet up, Tyvian's confession was downright bizarre.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Myreon's face was bright red, but not from anger. The color was due to the fact that she was suspended upside-Âdown by her ankles, which were manacled in a manner identical to Tyvian's wrists. The Kalsaaris had tipped her upside-Âdown, though, since they needed her hands to be in casterlocks.
“I'm talking about my book idea, MyreonâÂpay attention,” Tyvian scolded. “I'm going to call it âDungeons of the World.' It will be my analysis of the various jails, prisons, dungeons, and oubliettes in which I have been incarcerated from time to time. I think it will be quite interesting.”
“Shut up,” Myreon answered. Groaning, she lifted herself up from the waist to bring herself somewhat upright, relieving the pressure on her head for a moment. The mage could only hold it for a few moments before falling back upside-Âdown. She struck her head on the stone wall for her efforts. “Ow! Kroth damn it!”
“Stop acting the ninny,” Tyvian said. “I'll need you rested for when we escape.”
you want to escape? What the hell is wrong with you?
We could have escaped already!
“Yes, but that would have only been a temporary victory.”
Myreon rolled her bloodshot eyes. “Are you going to tell me what the plan is?”
“No, I am not.”
She grunted in incoherent frustration. “How am I supposed to help if I don't know what the plan is?”
“To be honest, I'm not sure I can trust you yet.”
?” She shook her head. “This is absurd.”
Tyvian would have shrugged if his arms weren't already at their full vertical extension. “You have to admit that, up until a very short time ago, it was your stated personal goal to see me turned to stone. Save for the duress of our pursuit and incarceration, I somehow doubt you would be using the term âwe.' ”
Myreon sighed. “The Kalsaaris are a common enemy to all Westerners. Even you can see that.”
“Nonsense. I have done business with Kalsaaris quite a bit in my career and found them as amenable as any Western business partnerâÂyou should know, as you ruined several of my smuggling attempts by detaining and interrogating my Kalsaari contacts in Tasis.”
“Those men were bigger criminals in the Empire than you are here. This Kalsaari is a Hanim of an Imperial HouseâÂthere's a big difference.”
Tyvian nodded. “Granted, but it still doesn't make you trustworthy.”
“For the love of Hann .Â .Â .” Myreon grumbled, but fell silent.
Tyvian looked around. The dungeon was a simple affairâÂa cylinder of stone that sank fifty feet into the ground, with a narrow staircase winding along the edge from the door at the very top to the very bottom, where a number of iron hooks were pounded into the wall. From these hooks, manacled prisoners could easily be suspended like so many slabs of beef. At the center of the floor there was a heavy wooden table complete with all the chains, manacles, and bloodstains necessary to indicate a vehicle for torture. As a final touch, some shallow pits were dug into the ground and covered with rusty iron gratingsâÂcrude cells for prisoners who somehow didn't rate being hung on the wall. Tyvian wondered if they were being treated better or worse than those thrown in a hole, but couldn't decide. Given the small windows at street level, high above them, he imagined that when it rained all the water would run down and fill the holes, which would be very cold and potentially dangerous over long periods of time. Then again, being hung from the wall was far more uncomfortable, even if the risk of drowning was smaller.
“This all has something to do with Hendrieux, doesn't it?” Myreon grumbled at last.
Tyvian smiled. “Now
the Mage Defender I know and love.”
The door at the top of the dungeon opened and two mark-Âslaves entered, bearing ornate golden feylamps fashioned in the shape of dragons. Behind them came another, particularly large mark-Âslave, who crouched to enter because, on one shoulder, he bore the elegant and slender form of the Hanim herself. The Hanim was then followed by Walid, who walked quietly behind the imposing procession with a blank expression, hands behind his back.
Tyvian looked at Myreon. “Time to prove how much you're in the game, Myreon. Not a wordâÂsay nothing, understand?”
Myreon nodded, her face grim. “Even if they kill me.”
I'm worried about them killing,” Tyvian said back, and then did his best to compose himself as the Hanim was brought down to the dungeon floor atop her slave.
Walid laid out a small, ornately woven rug before Tyvian, and the Hanim was set down upon it. Her golden eyes gleamed in the light of the feylamp. “We meet again, Tyvian Reldamar.”
Tyvian smiled and nodded. “Forgive me if I fail to kneel again, but I am currently unable. Perhaps if you were to un-Âshackle my wrists .Â .Â .”
The Hanim grinned. “That smile won't work on me, smuggler.” She knelt before Myreon and ran her long fingernails along the mage's cheek. “A Mage Defender, and pretty, tooâÂsuch a prize. His Imperial Magnificence will be most pleased with me.”
Myreon pulled back from her touch as much as possible, glaring at the Kalsaari through her swollen, bloodshot eyes.
The Hanim tsked at her through her teeth. “Now nowâÂsuch anger will only make you easier to control, my prize. You will tell us your secrets, one way or another.”
Tyvian cleared his throat. “A question, if I may?”
“Of course.” The Hanim turned from Myreon and rose slowly.
Tyvian let his eyes wander down the front of her silk gown. He was not disappointed. “You've wanted me for the ring the whole time, haven't you? Our private meeting in your chambers was simply to stroke my ego. You wanted me to think myself more important than I was, making it easier to lure me into your trap, right?”
The Hanim permitted herself a smirk. “I also wanted to inspect you. If I'm to have you and your ring in my possession, I wanted to know if you were worth having.”
“My apologies, then, for not allowing our meeting to progress that far.” Tyvian smirked back.
“Oh, for the love of Hann .Â .Â .” Myreon blurted out, her eyes rolling.
The Hanim broke eye contact with Tyvian. “I understand that you are planning to escape.”
Myreon's eyes bulged out of her head, but Tyvian grinned. “Ah, you were listeningâÂI thought as much.”
The Hanim looked around at her dungeon. “Tell me, Master ReldamarâÂ”
“Please, call me Tyvian.”
The Hanim glared at him. “Very well .Â .Â . tell me,
, I am clearly less well versed in the design of dungeons than yourself. However would you expect to escape a dungeon such as this one?”
“You will understand, Hanim, if I decline to explain it to you. Rule number one for escaping dungeons is to refrain from telling the jailor your plan.”
The Hanim pulled herself to her full height and, fixing her eyes on his, she spread her arms forcefully and intoned,
“You will tell me how you will break yourself out of this dungeon!”
Tyvian felt the enchantment take his mind up like a wave. He was suddenly delirious, insensible, intoxicated with a mix of Lumenal and Dweomeric energy. Before he knew it, he was talking. He explained the weakness in the mortar due to years of water damage, which would allow him to slowly work the hook out of the wall. He described how the lack of guards in the dungeon itself would allow him to quickly free Myreon from her prison. Then, armed with the mage's Arts, they would soon overpower the two guards in the guard room beyond the stairs. From there it was a short run through the palace to the courtyard he had observed with Carlo on the night he visited. A quick lightfoot spell to aid their climbing, and they would be over the wall to freedom before any further guards could be summoned.
When he finally finished, he added, “It's all very simple, really.”
The Hanim was clearly incensed as her enchantment ended. “Very clever, Tyvian, but you are still too arrogant. I am now tripling the men in the guardroom. There will be five guards here watching you at all times.” She reached out and seized his chin in a viselike grip. “Understand, smugglerâÂyou are
. I would rather have you with your wits in place, but I can make just as much use of the ring and your body
a mind as with one.”
She pushed Tyvian back against the wall. He permitted himself a laugh. “Really, HanimâÂI'm
The Hanim's scowl softened into a flat-Âlipped look of consternation. “You are a challenge, Tyvian Reldamar. I wonder if your friend Carlo knows how much I am going to enjoy you.”
“Carlo's a clever fellow. He'll figure it out.”
The Hanim snapped her fingers and her slave picked her back up. Walid rolled up the rug, and the Kalsaari noblewoman and her procession climbed the stairs and left the smuggler and the mage in peace again.
When the door closed, Myreon began yelling. “You fool! You complete idiot! Do you know what you've done?”
Tyvian rolled his eyes and sighed. “No, Myreon, please explain it to me.”
“Maybe you were too busy making moon-Âeyes at the witch to notice, but you just told that bloody devil-Âwoman
we planned to escape!”
“Indeed, it seems that way.”
I can't believe this! You've gone mad! I think you might actually
to be her consort!”
Tyvian nodded. “I must admit the job seems to have certain advantages.”
Myreon howled in frustration. “Kroth damn you, you arrogant dunce! You've doomed us both! How in the name of all the gods are we going to get ourselves out
“Well, Myreon, that's just the thing,” Tyvian said calmly. “
ool crouched on the crest of a low hill, listening to the wind as it blew across the Taqar, stirring the plains of tall, blue-Âgray grass into waves and ripples as broad as the ocean. The sky was white and unblemished, and Hool could not see the sun, though she felt its burning weight upon her shoulders. The air smelled like rain.
She saw flocks of birds startle and fly out of the grass, twirling in the air as they fled, twittering their warnings to the others. Hool sank lower into the grass, watching. It could be a molecat, or perhaps a coyote, and she knew her pups were hungry. “Brana,” she hissed, “pay attention.”
Little Brana, her youngest, crouched next to his mother, a perfect mimic. His big yellow eyes, though, were fixed on his mother's powerful shoulders and sharp gaze. At her scolding, he refocused on where the birds had fled, his white-Âtufted ears swiveling to the task at hand. “Yes, Mama.”
Hool sighed. This was a dream. She'd had it before, with her eldest, Api. She felt a horrible, cold, wrenching pain grow in her stomach. She knew how the dream ended.
“Mama loves you, Brana,” Hool said quietly.
Brana wasn't listening. He had caught the scentâÂthe sickly sweet odor of raw meat sweating in the sun. It was freshly skinned and enticing. Too enticing for him. The young pup was off, scurrying through the grass with lightning speed.
Hool howled after him, “No! It's a trap, Brana! Trap!”
She ran after him then, her heart pounding, her eyes and ears scanning the blades of grass to see the way they turned and hear as they brushed against Brana's cream-Âcolored coat. The dream was a liar, though, and she saw nothing. The grass moved in the wrong directions, it led her in circles. All she could hear was the quiet scrape of Brana's paws against the dry earth. “Brana! Come back!”
Then, through a trick of her dream, Hool saw it in her mind's eye as clearly as though it were before her: a heavy iron jaw of serrated, sharpened teeth lying in the grass, the skinned hock of a calf atop its rusty touchplate. It was laid by a human cattleman to catch wolves, coyotes, and, sometimes, foolish gnoll pups. Brana, tongue lolling to one side, burst upon the scene and, nose wiggling with excitement, pounced upon the plate. Hool closed her eyes. She could never watch this.
She heard the rusty scrape of the springs and Brana yelp. He only yelped once.
“Mama loves you, Brana,” she murmured, her heart screaming.
Only the wind answered.
ool awoke with a start, her face pressed into a snowbank. She laid still, the pain of the dream still washing over her. Brana's scent still lingered in her nostrils. She moaned into the ground and breathed heavily.
“It's not real. Just a dream. Just a dream. They're alive.”
A door slammed closed, and the world snapped back into focus. Her ears shot up; she listened carefully. It was a woman; she smelled of sex and death. She was going to the outhouse to throw up the poison she had drunk. Hool was too far away to tell who the woman had been with inside the big river-Âhouse with the tall stone wall, and it was too risky to go and grab her. Reldamar had said this place was where humans sold other humans to each other as slaves, which seemed a ridiculous idea. He had told her terrible stories about how they would fill their blood with poisons to make the slaves loyal, and how the place had a magic door that let them take Âpeople from anywhere, make them slaves, and send them anywhere. Hendrieux, he said, had to be inside. She'd been watching the big house for over two hours now, taking short naps to save her strength, but there hadn't been a whiff of him.